Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Soaring Oil Prices don´t Worry Cubans

Expensive oil and gas in world markets is at the bottom of Cuban worries, where food, housing and transportation are at the top of their daily agenda.
Maybe Cubans have begun applying energy-saving measures at home, because the electricity and phone bills are among the most pressing on the family budget. If you received a bank credit for one of the appliances recently distributed, like fridges, fans, and stoves, then salary money is not enough to buy food out of the ration card.
On the other hand, solidarious Venezuela sells Cuba about 100 thousand barrels of oil per day which can be paid with the thousands of doctors, teachers, sports trainers and other specialists now working in Venezuela. Forty-eight percent of the national energy balance is made up by oil and gas extracted at home, with the other 52 percent made up by imports.
Renewable energy sources are being quickly developed, mostly through solar panels, wind parks and mini-hydroelectric plants.
The new integration scheme of ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), an initiative of president Hugo Chavez, of which Cuba is a founding member together with Venezuela, and now benefits 14 nations in the Caribbean basin.
I, for one, own a Lada, model 2105, manufactured in 1984, sold to me as a journalist together with other professionals, in 1986. With great effort and money, my son-in-law has attended to all the needs of this veteran that has not gone to war, but treads over streets that look like Sarajevo after being bombed or maybe worse.
Other Soviet cars are the Moskvich and Volgas, which also roll on Cuban roads, although the latter have been mostly discarded because they need an oil well attached to the gas tank.
For a Russian tourist, a trip to Cuba could seem like a trip back in time, the opposite of what occurred in 1962 when I visited the Soviet Union for the first time and was surprised at people looking at US cars in awe when that was yesterday´s news for me, as Havana still had some new US models.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and Cubans have become mechanics of their own automobiles. Gas, however, can only be bought in Convertible Cuban Pesos (local equivalent of hard currency) or for 15 ordinary pesos a liter, about one US dollar (0.80 CUC).
State institutions also give monthly prepaid cards to present at service stations to professionals they employ and own vehicles. The cards cover from 25 to 50 liters each according to the post held and the distance from work to the car owner´s home. Some unions like the Cuban Journalists Union, also give their members 40 liters a month, charging 32 ordinary pesos for that amount of gas.
As a report on Soviet cars published recently says, modern technology seems to have bypassed this land where car parts are still being made and attached by hand. However,optimists as they are, Cubans refuse to succumb to gloom and extol the excellences of their vehicles that demand little from owners and render great services, sometimes even their livelihood.In sharp contrast to modern world politics, American oldies blend well with their Soviet-made peers, as Soviet spare parts are used frequently to repair American cars. So they reject gathering dust as exhibits and have made Cuba an auto museum come to life.
Viva la Cuba!
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